LibriVox recording of Hannibal, by Jacob Abbott. Read by LibriVox volunteers.
There are certain names which are familiar, as names, to all mankind; and every person who seeks for any degree of mental cultivation, feels desirous of informing himself of the leading outlines of their history, that he may know, in brief, what it was in their characters or their doings which has given them so widely-extended a fame. Consequently, great historical names alone are selected; and it has been the writer's aim to present the prominent and leading traits in their characters, and all the important events in their lives, in a bold and free manner, and yet in the plain and simple language which is so obviously required in works which aim at permanent and practical usefulness. This volume is dedicated to Hannibal. (Summary from the preface of the book)
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April 28, 2010 Subject:
In the mid-19th century, Jacob Abbott (1803-1879) wrote a series of biographies as an introduction to famous men and women in history such as Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, etc.. ostensibly for children, but also appealing to adults. His books do one thing very well, and that is tell a dramatic story in a compelling narrative. His biography of Hannibal is factually accurate in terms of the events, based as it is on ancient texts like that by Livy, it is comparable to Gibbon in style, though not nearly as detailed. Modern critics will rightly point to Abbott's antiquated Victorian-era morality lessons, but I think it provides a certain warm grandfatherly charm, and unintended humor. In any case it's easy to overlook Abbott's occasional commentary for the sake of the narrative of events.
Hannibal focuses on the Second Punic War, the one in which Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with war elephants. The First and Third Punic War are covered in the first and last chapter by way of summary. This account is mostly a biography of Hannibal and so skims over other famous scenes and characters, but Hannibal was the Napoleon/Alexander of his day and thus the central figure of the Punic Wars. If you've only heard of Hannibal and want to know why he is so famous without reading Livy or a longer book this is a great way to go. Although there are some better modern books of this type, like by Harold Lamb and others, this one is free online and has an audio version. The LibriVox recording is well done, see also the map and engravings in the original book.